Future or Bust!

Uploaded by Vermin Inc.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future. Although to be fair, I haven’t done much of the thinking myself – there are many people better placed than me to do that. For me, it’s been more of an exercise of observing and listening.

The two areas that have been the focus of this recent bout of crystal ball gazing are news and regeneration. In December and January I attended the Future of News group, a monthly discussion about where the news industry in this country is heading.

Organiser Adam Westbrook has managed to encourage some very positive discussion around a range of interesting topics including forming journalism collectives and data mashing. Tomorrow’s session is already booked up, but you can find out more about future events here.

My main employer New Start has been involved in another crystal ball gazing exercise on the future of regeneration (and no, it’s not about who the next Doctor Who is going to be). This exercise is looking ahead to after the general election and how the incoming government should approach regeneration.

I attended the first discussion and while the round-table format format was very different from the more informal Future of News events, I noticed a number of similar themes.

Firstly, both industries are going through a period of upheaval. With journalism, the value of news as a commodity has diminished, while the regeneration industry faces huge cuts as a result of efforts to bring spending under control. In both industries this means using money more creatively, it also means that new business models should be examined.

Over the past year or so journalists have been encouraged to get more business minded and generate their own start-ups. I recently interviewed someone from the Arts Desk, a website set up by collective of arts journalists to give them an outlet for their work. In the past, they would have not have had to think about a start-up or even working together. Now it’s a necessity.

Similarly, there will be fewer public grants to fund regeneration work than there were a few years ago. The Conservatives have dropped strong hints that the public sector will take more of a back seat role, simply enabling things to happen through voluntary groups and other not for profit organisations. It is likely that a Labour government will attempt something similar.

This takes me to not-for-profit models in journalism. In the States there is ProPublica and a growing number of news co-operatives (something I am exploring in an article for The Journalist, which comes out in May). Over here, the social enterprise model is becoming popular with hyperlocals and also start-ups keen to make a difference (some argue that social enterprises must have some positive social purpose, which is fair enough) to society.

There are other parallels, including a move towards multidisciplinary working in both industries and an increasing focus on the local level. But the main question for me is what can one industry learn from the other? That’s something I’ll attempt to answer at tomorrow’s future of news with my regeneration influenced response to the ‘homework’ question posed by Adam Westbrook.

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